According to legend, Santa found the snow elf first, deep in the North Pole. He promptly outfitted his newest helper with holly leaf wings, blue ornament eyes, an ice cream cone hat and a magical candy cane. From that moment on, Mister Bingle has lived, as charming characters are wont to do, in New Orleans.
He arrived at his first home on Canal Street by way of a forward-thinking front window manager at Maison Blanche, a New Orleans department store, in 1947. Fresh off an inspiring trip to the Magnificent Mile in downtown Chicago, where Uncle Mistletoe was delighting children at Marshall Fields and Rudolph was stealing hearts at Montgomery Ward, Emile Alline decided Maison Blanche needed a signature holiday character, too. He would have to work quickly to make Mister Bingle a reality for that year’s holiday season.
With the help of puppeteer Oscar Isentrout (who did puppet shows between dancers at burlesque clubs on Bourbon Street), Alline’s sketches became prototypes that quickly evolved into a moving, talking, endearing Mister Bingle puppet. From then on, Isentrout performed regular shows in the front display windows of the Maison Blanche store on Canal Street during the holiday season. There were also shows in the toy department, entertaining the winding line of kids waiting for their turn on Santa’s lap.
As technology evolved, so did Mister Bingle’s connection to his audience. A cartoon TV commercial debuted in the 60s, complete with a catchy jingle. In the 80s, Maison Blanche commissioned a large fiberglass statue of Mister Bingle to live on the store’s facade overlooking Canal Street.
The years, unfortunately, brought hard times to the much-loved Mister Bingle. When Isentrout died in the 80s, the live puppet shows died with him. Maison Blanche’s department store chain was sold to Dillard’s in 1997 and the fiberglass statue and all the rights to Mister Bingle went too.